Protecting landscapes like this may require accounting for the financial benefits.
Credit: Chesapeake Bay Foundation
John Griffin, Tim Male
A major theme of the Chesapeake Conservation Partnership’s 2016 Annual Working Meeting was “Growing the Pie.” Translation: Continue to maintain current public funding sources for land conservation while pursuing additional sources of funding and financing to meet the current conservation goal of protecting an additional 2 million acres by 2025, and the more recent goal of conserving and restoring valuable lands equaling 30 percent of all Bay watershed lands by 2030.
The results so far have been fairly successful. At the Federal level, the Great American Outdoors Act was enacted in 2020 providing permanent, full funding of the Land and Water Conservation Fund. And President Biden has issued Executive Orders and implementation plans that have called for conserving 30 percent of all lands in the country by 2030. Despite the impacts of the pandemic on state revenues, all states in the watershed have been able to maintain most of their respective land conservation funding programs with at least one state increasing its funding levels.
There is another source of financing that the CCP and its partners should attract to assist in meeting our conservation and related restoration goals. Around the country, funding from private investors is flowing into projects that improve conservation and environmental outcomes on forests and farms, store more carbon, reduce flooding impacts, and protect and restore natural assets.
Credit: USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service
Even during the pandemic, global investment in green assets rose to $288 billion, a 100% increase from 2019.
No single source of funding is a panacea – but they each have a different set of strengths that we need to achieve ambitious water, land, biodiversity and justice goals.
Some of this investment is truly independent of any taxpayer support.
For example, sustainability standards like those adopted by hundreds of multinational companies are bending trillion-dollar investment portfolios toward actions with conservation and environmental benefits.
Other kinds of private investment depend on taxpayer dollars but use structures that allow the private financing to bear what would have previously been public risk and take better advantage of scale, innovation, and cost efficiencies.
For example, there is approximately $4 billion in annual private investment in wetland and stream restoration that private companies or public agencies can purchase to offset their development impacts on other water resources. Those projects can only be sold after a third party has verified that the restoration has worked.
We can improve state policy to bring in private finance in ways that both increase overall funding and allow public money to be used to greater effect, at lower risk, while creating jobs in our communities.
Credit: Choose Clean Water Coalition
Here are a few ideas:
- Change procurement laws so it is easier to contract for environmental outcomes as a finished product instead of paying up front for each step in a process. Pay-for-success contracting, as it is increasingly known, is akin to purchasing a tractor. Government purchases a finished product.
- Make it easier for private landowners to put carbon sequestration plans in place for forests and farmland and to bundle small amounts of carbon together across lots of properties to sell to investors and companies voluntarily trying to offset their emissions.
- New policies are needed to make it easier to combine funding from multiple state and private sources to achieve a bigger scale of conservation and restoration. Often little changes in these programs can help. For example, in 2021, the Maryland General Assembly enacted changes that allow loan guarantees – which usually have no public cost – to be available to nonprofits and businesses to launch conservation and restoration projects. Those guarantees help private organizations and local governments secure lower interest rates from private sources.
In April 2019, a successful “Roundtable on Private Capital Investment in Land Conservation and Environmental Restoration“ was held, co-sponsored by the CCP, the Alliance for the Chesapeake Bay, and the Land Trust Alliance Bay Office. Following this event, staff from these organizations with nonprofit partner the Environmental Policy Innovation Center consulted with workgroups, Maryland state agencies, and many other private companies and conservation nonprofits through 2020 to draft a state legislative proposal, the Comprehensive Conservation Finance Act. The legislation was intended to be a model that other Bay states could adapt to their respective state laws and priorities.
The legislation was introduced in the Maryland State Senate and passed out of committee and the full Senate unanimously. While it was viewed favorably by the House of Delegates’ committee, the committee leadership decided it was too late in the Session to move the bill through the House. Both the House committee leadership and the lead Senate sponsor plan to reintroduce the legislation early in the 2022 Session. Be on the lookout for opportunities to help the bill’s passage when the time comes.
Don’t forget to send us your 2020 land conservation success stories as they develop. They’ll land in the new and growing collection at success.chesapeakeconservation.org, a tool we can all use to show collective impact. See the checklist below for easy-to-follow, simple guidelines.